High tech, high crime

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Recently, IBM developed something called the USB Memory Key. Described as “flexible, portable miniature storage” for USB-equipped systems that don’t come with a disk drive, this device requires no software, power supply or batteries.

According to the literature on IBM’s Web site, you can, “store your file and then tuck the compact 8MB USB Memory Key away in your shirt-pocket or attach it to your key ring.” The key ring is 12 x 25 x 100mm and can download a lot in a small amount of time, 700bps to be exact.

Like much of the new technology out there, this device opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to corporate espionage, intellectual property and trademark/copyright issues.

“With this technology, someone can walk out with a lot of information and wave to the security guard with the key chain full of company secrets,” says Joshua Marks, associate attorney at Arter & Hadden LLP. “Technology is driving the law. And technology moves faster than the law.”

With key chain size data storage devices, MP3 technology allowing anyone to download copyrighted material and cable modems providing unfettered accessibility to unprotected networks, technology is making it easier than ever to break the law.

“The growing trend we are seeing in our practice is employee theft,” Marks says. According to a study by the American Society for Industrial Security, financial losses resulting from intellectual property theft and misappropriation were a whopping $63 billion last year.

There isn’t much a company can do about the fast pace of technology, but there are a few things that can be done to protect a business’ most critical information.

First, understand what constitutes a trade secret. Marks explains that trade secrets are information that is not “within the realm of general skills and knowledge” and would not be “readily duplicated without involving considerable time, effort or expense.”

When deciding what to protect, Marks suggests keeping some things in mind.

* To what extent is this information known outside the business?

* What is the value of that information to the business?

* How easily could someone outside the business acquire or duplicate this information?

Once a business knows what its intellectual capital is, policies and security measures need to be evaluated and revised. Ask the following questions:

* What information should not be available to download?

* Who should have access to what information?

* What information leaves the office on unprotected laptops or over the Internet?

Simple policies like mandatory locks and passwords on laptops, confidentiality agreements signed both at the initial employment and at exit interviews go a long way in protecting what information employees have access to.

“Just things like visitor badges, restricting access and marking things confidential help,” Marks says.

Fortunately, technology has created some cutting edge espionage prevention measures. There is encryption technology to prevent outsiders from reading sensitive materials and new pixel location software that will give the whereabouts of anyone opening a file. Many firms also plant false information that alerts the business whenever proprietary customer lists are used or patents copied.

As always, the best way to deal with property theft is to prevent it. That’s because, as Marks admits, “In many cases employee espionage is tough to prove.” And with the FBI reporting more than 800 cases of economic espionage, the problem is not going to go away anytime soon.

How to reach: Arter & Hadden, (216) 696-4689.